Va. drunken driving prevention program working

WASHINGTON – A new law aimed at drunken drivers may be doing what it’s supposed to – preventing them from getting behind the wheel.

Motorists convicted of drunken driving in Virginia just once are required to put an ignition interlock device on their car. The device requires the driver to blow into it to prove they are sober or the car won’t start.

After just one year of enforcement, the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program says 8,456 Virginia drivers were forced to pay for and install the devices. That’s a 75 percent increase in the use of those devices in the commonwealth where, prior to July 1 of 2012, drivers could only be ordered to use them by a judge. Now it’s mandatory on the first conviction.

“We that support the bill think eventually the numbers will quadruple, so this is just the beginning,” says AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend.

“The theory is that it will keep more drunk drivers off our highways.”

In Maryland, Townsend says the Ignition Interlock Program has been in effect since 2008, but doesn’t apply to first-time offenders.

Through the first four months of fiscal 2013, an average of 10,645 people were enrolled in Maryland’s program.

Maryland, a much smaller state than Virginia, upgraded its law in 2011 to include drivers with high blood alcohol levels, repeat offenders and underage offenders.

Virginia is one of only 15 states that mandates the interlock device for first-time offenders.

Alcohol-related vehicle crashes killed 229 people in Virginia in 2012 and led to 8,777 injuries.

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